June 2022

President’s Message

Pandemic of Kindness—An Organization Full of Resilience

There is no doubt that the pandemic brought darkness, and that in times of crisis we tend to focus on the negative. But there are positives, too, that have provided optimism, promoted resilience, and increased our ability to adapt to challenges and, although we are still facing albeit a somewhat diluted COVID crisis, our ability to accept that which we cannot change, and to handle each situation as it arises, never ceases to amaze me. My favorite saying (and printed on a coaster on my desk) is: “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.” I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t recall a day in my life that everything has gone according to the way I envisioned it upon waking.

We have now seen both the 2022 Commercial and Home Wine Competitions come and go and, unless you were a part of the crews that made them happen, they both appeared to run relatively flawlessly and easy. Little do many of you know the trials and tribulations of the Committee members who worked tirelessly for months on end that made them look that way, and the hundreds of volunteers who ultimately brought the Competitions to fruition.

This is the story of the workings of the OCWS all year long (and for over four decades now), and the commitment and kindness of all the volunteers that make it happen. Someone very high in the ranks of the OC Fair & Events Center once asked me how we manage to run such a highly successful organization on volunteer power and could we teach their other non-profit partners to do the same. My response was that good, kind hearts can’t be taught and that, although, the majority of us originally joined because of our love, and often curiosity of wine, we stay because of the love and camaraderie that abounds within the OCWS. It’s infectious and makes us want to participate more.

I have seen kindnesses within the group like nowhere else. Volunteering becomes addictive and makes one want to work to lift up the organization and those within. I wish I could list all the people who I have witnessed who selflessly have supported and helped lift others up, while devoting themselves to the OCWS for no other reason than they are kind and we share a common goal…..the success of a truly phenomenal organization, with amazingly kind and loving hearts.

We now have The Courtyard at the OC Fair ahead of us in the near future and, again, we are looking at over 300 volunteers to make it happen. I have no doubt that this too will follow suit and rank among the many successes of the OCWS.

I hope you all know that whether you volunteer all year long, or for just a few hours a year at one event, you are what drives the success of the OCWS. I am so grateful to be a part of something so amazingly special and thank each and every one of you who make the Orange County Wine Society what it is!

– Fran Gitsham, President

In Memoriam— Remembering Jim Downey

This year’s OC Fair Home Wine Competition was a bit sadder and harder to organize without one of our longtime members, Jim Downey, who passed away in mid-May after a short battle with cancer.

Jim was a fixture in the Winemakers’ Group and is best remembered for organizing the Home Wine Competition volunteers. He was a “take charge and get it done” kind of guy. When we needed Competition volunteers he’d say, “Tell me what you need and I’ll get it done for you.”  Besides getting them, he himself was the consummate volunteer. He always worked the hardest, was one of the last to stay, and never complained about it.

I worked with him for many years helping to run that competition. He was well organized and very disciplined. He was also very firm and direct with someone when he wanted to make a point. One year I was Director of Judges and was short a few judges as the competition neared. I asked Jim for phone numbers of some stewards who had judging experience. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he did not want me stealing his stewards.

Jim and his wife, Linda, joined the OCWS in 2011. Besides being involved with the Winemakers’ Group, Jim enjoyed working the Express Bar at The Courtyard during the OC Fair. He stewarded at the Commercial Wine Competition. He was a regular at the Wine Auction and you could always find him behind a big crock pot serving his chili at the Chili Cook-off.

Jim and Linda enjoyed travel and brought back stories from their worldwide adventures. Jim especially liked Japan. Regular family visits to Northern California always included wine tasting side trips, particularly to Macchia.

Jim was very generous. He made a most delicious German potato dish or a crockpot of bratwurst sausages for potluck gatherings. He was also an excellent winemaker, reds and whites. One he was most proud of was a Riesling made from a kit.

I think the situation that most exemplified Jim happened while preparing for a Home Wine Competition. Jim was directing volunteers as if giving orders and Rob Romano made the comment, “that’s right, you used to be a Marine.” Jim whirled around, stood at attention, looked Rob in the eye and replied, “NO, you are ALWAYS a Marine.”

Recollections by Ed Reyes, with contributions from
Wendy Taylor, Rob Romano and David Rutledge

The Courtyard at the OC Fair

We are so excited to be bringing lots of fun to the OCWS by way of The Courtyard at the OC Fair this year! Come join us in person to help support the organization and make our biggest, and much needed, fundraiser of the year a tremendous success.

The Courtyard will mirror last year with a bistro vibe. High-top bistro tables scattered around and, newly added, there will be benches along two of The Courtyard walls for seating. At this time, we are extremely excited to be bringing back in-person seminars and the Featured Winery Program, with its own location and a new bar. We are also planning to bring back Award Tastings, however, if County guidelines and Fair mandates change, we will adapt accordingly. The atmosphere that our volunteers bring to The Courtyard with their love, laughter and commitment remains the same.

To those of you who have signed up to volunteer at The Courtyard this Fair season, THANK YOU! We still have quite a few shift opportunities, so keep an eye out for our SOS (Save our Shifts) emails. By the time you read this, you should have received confirmation of your shift schedules and will receive your badges and parking passes via USPS prior to the opening of Fair.

The Fair has implemented a new program, which replaces the previous TIPS training. The new ABC RBS (Responsible Beverage Serving) will be required of managers, supervisors and volunteers who have never worked The Courtyard before. Anyone who has been TIPS trained, whether your certification is current or expired, will not be required to certify this year, however, the new certification will be required in 2023.

If you are interested in working at the Fair, or adding additional shifts to your requests, please reach out at email address

And remember, as an added bonus your badges double as entry passes to the Fair at any time, while all other public Fair passes can only be purchased ahead of time online.

We look forward to seeing you at The Courtyard!

– Fran Gitsham, 2022 Courtyard at the OC Fair Chair

Featured Winery Program at the OC Fair

Lloyd and I would like to invite you to visit us, along with Betty Jo and Jay Newell, at the Featured Winery Bar during the OC Fair. We will be presenting wines from a different winery each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You will get to meet the winemaker or a winery principal who will introduce you to their wines, answer your questions about their wines, their history with the winery, and any other inquiries you may have. We will be pouring tastes for you to enjoy.

Our participants scheduled to present to date are listed below.

Date Winery   Date Winery
July 15 Fallbrook Winery, Carrie & Kevin McCracken   July 31 Dark Star Cellars, Michael Cox
July 16 Seven Angels, Greg Martin   August 5 Gelson’s Private Label Wines, Jake Cheung
July 17 Double Bond Wine, John Klacking   August 6 Mineral Wines, Brett Keller
July 22 Dubost Winery, Zack Raines   August 7 Virginia Dare Winery, Francoise Cordesse
July 23 Big Nose Winery, Roger and Janice Mattar   August 12 Vinos Unidos Winery, Chris Jaregui
July 24 Cypher Winery, Susan Mahler   August 13 Shale Oak Winery, Curtis Hascall
July 29 Riboli Family Wines, Marty Spate   August 14 Bushong Vintage Co., Jason Bushong
July 30 Ammons Horn Wines, Roger Wolff      

All proceeds from the Featured Winery Bar go to the OCWS Scholarship Fund.

Please come make new friends, learn more about wines, and enjoy yourself.

– Liz & Lloyd Corbett,
Featured Winery Program Co-chairs

2022 OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition Wrap Up

The 46th Annual Commercial Wine Competition was held on June 4 and 5 at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa. The weekend found 85 professional winemakers and winery principals judging 2,516 wines, and the OCWS resoundingly rebounding from a couple of strange COVID restricted years and, although we were still in the midst of a milder variant outbreak, hundreds of volunteers braved the current COVID environment to bring a successful end to another amazing Competition.

The Competition Committee worked tirelessly since last September to make this happen and will have just enough time to take a deep breath before beginning again this September in anticipation of 2023.

Following are the Committee members who put their hearts, sweat and tears into making this Competition a reality and a raving success:

  • Kevin Coy, Head of Judges
  • Liz & Lloyd Corbett, Wine Cataloging Leads and Mentors
  • Stacey Taylor, Tech Lead/Competition Software and Results Website Creator
  • Robyn & Dean Strom, Volunteer Coordinators
  • Rochelle Randel, Judges’ Liaison
  • Bill Redding, Facilities Coordinator
  • Chris Bruce, Scoring Verification Lead
  • Greg Hagadorn, Move Coordinator and
    Bagging/Sort Mentor
  • Dave White, Wine Bagging
  • George Cravens, Assist Extraordinaire
  • Carolyn Christian, Marketing
  • Sam Puzzo & Carol Frank, Label/Bottle Competition

And, although not technically on the Committee roster, I would be remiss if I did not mention:

  • Dave Stancil, Data Entry Coordinator
  • Leslie Brown, New Committee Chair Mentor
  • Jane Gold, Head of Judges’ Assist
  • Teri & John Lane, Cataloging Understudies

And the hundreds of volunteers who stewarded, manned the kitchen, dried glasses, directed traffic, verified scores, and data entries, input data entries, coordinated judges’ food, etc., etc.

As a first year Competition Chairperson, I couldn’t have imagined a more cohesive, accommodating, and hard-working Committee to make me feel really great about what we all accomplished as a team! My heartfelt gratitude goes out to everyone who had anything to do with the success of the Competition and for personally holding mine, and each other’s hands and hearts!

For Competition results check out WineCompetition.com and look to enjoy some of the fruits of the winemakers’ labors.

– Fran Gitsham, 2022 Commercial Wine Competition Chair

OCWS Board of Directors Election

Oversite of the OCWS is seen by a nine-member Board of Directors, which finds three members’ terms ending each year. The organization, as you all know it, does not run itself. Needless to say, intelligent, innovative, open minded, problem solving, and results oriented people are the key to the leadership of the group. The majority of our members have these skills already, and it’s that time of year to consider stepping up to help lead the way. If you know the organization and have been a volunteer along the way, you just might be among the people to take a lead position.

The beginning of a three-year term on the Board of Directors, according to the By-Laws, shall be staggered such that three members’ terms expire each year. The three vacated positions are filled each year by a vote of the OCWS membership, following the Annual Business Meeting which, this year, will be held on Friday, September 9, 2022, and will be held virtually via Zoom.

The overall time commitment for a member of the Board varies, based upon assignments and participation. The ultimate goal of the Board is for members to run OCWS programming, with the Board acting as mentors and liaisons regarding budgets, event timing and placement, and for the Board to function as an oversight committee, focusing on compliance with the ByLaws, insurance, OC Fair compliance, liability exposure, etc., and generally running the business of the organization.

A candidate, ideally, should possess some of the following skills:

  • General knowledge of the OCWS events and activities
  • Prior experience as a volunteer
  • The ability and time to help organize events throughout the year
  • Selected event and budget management skills
  • Be a member in good standing

To declare candidacy for a position on the Board of Directors, a candidate must present a Declaration of Candidacy, in writing, by mail or via electronic media to the Election Chair no later than fourteen (14) calendar days (which is August 26, 2022) prior to the scheduled Annual Business Meeting.

Statements of Candidacy will be posted on the OCWS website and, during the Annual Business Meeting, declared candidates will have an opportunity to address the attending membership. A written Statement of Qualifications is required to be presented to the Election Committee no later than five (5) calendar days after receipt by the Election Chair of a Declaration of Candidacy.

The OCWS continues to thrive thanks in great part to the leadership of the organization over the last 47 years. If helping take the helm of this amazing group is of interest to you, please feel free to contact Sara Yeoman at Sara@ocws.org with any questions related to Director Responsibilities, the election process or anything else. Thank you.

– Sara Yeoman, 2022 Election Chair

Boysenberry Wine—Grape Wine is also a Fruit Wine!

I’m lucky to live in Southern California, where I can get access to some incredible wine grapes. But wine grape activities take place in the autumn for picking, crushing, fermenting and pressing. Then they go into the barrel, and there’s not a whole lot to do until bottling time. In the winter and spring, I like to make some wonderful fruit wines! But before you go and say “harrumph” to fruit wine, remember – grape wine is also a fruit wine!

These pictures show my 2021 Boysenberry wine, from berries grown by my brother David in Boise, Idaho. As is only obvious, I named it my Boiseberry Wine!  Since my brother grew them and we share our last name, can I call it Donnelly Estate Wine? Oh hell yes!

Unlike grapes which can usually be harvested in one picking, boysenberries are hand-picked one at a time over a two-month period, so Dave and his wife Michele picked the berries between July and August, and froze them as they were picked.

When he had enough for a batch of wine (and a few more pounds for ice cream – YUM!), he shipped them down to me. I started the batch on October 5th with 23 pounds of berries for a 6-gallon batch.

After sanitizing everything, I added the berries and water into a 7-gallon food-grade bucket (no Home Depot buckets).

One habit I use with fruit wines is that I buy and use quality bottled drinking water to bring it up to 6 gallons; I don’t use tap water.

If you remember the old Hamm’s Beer, they had an animated bear in their commercials. Their slogan was, “It’s the water that makes the difference!” I’ve always taken that advice to heart, whether I’m making wine or beer.

I then added about 11 pounds of sugar to bring it up to my target of 25 brix (25% sugar), added about a gram of potassium sulfite as a preservative, and pitched Red Star Premier Classique yeast. Hint here: use the stirring tool with an electric drill to save you a lot of time and elbow grease stirring, to dissolve the sugar!

The “must” (unfermented wine) takes about 2 weeks to ferment while the sugar changes into alcohol. During this process, the fermentation causes a bi-product of Carbon Dioxide, which is seen here with the bubbles.

Once the 25% sugar has fermented down to zero (the hydrometer actually reads slightly below zero), I will have wine with about 14% alcohol, right in the range of a typical California red wine.

After the fermentation is done, I use a strainer to separate the solids from the wine, and I transfer the wine to a carboy and top it off to 6 gallons with water. There are still a lot of solids in suspension in the wine, but as it sits and ages in the carboy, most of those solids precipitate to the bottom, and I can “rack” (siphon) the clearer wine off the top, and toss the solids.

After about 2 months and a couple more rackings, I filtered my Boysenberry Wine, and it’s BEAUTIFUL, with a transparency and maroon color you have to see to believe!

But it’s pretty tart, since all of the sugar has been turned into alcohol, and the boysenberry flavor is muted! Next up: back-sweetening it. The term “back-sweeten” means to add sweetener, usually sugar, after fermentation: the back-end of the process. Here, I typically sweeten by about 3%, which brings back the unique qualities of boysenberry flavor, similar to blackberry, but with more bite.

Some people like to add more sugar to make a sweeter dessert wine, but I prefer to make my fruit wines in a table-wine style, and not much perceived sweetness. That way, it makes for a WONDERFUL aperitif before dinner, and a refreshing beverage on a hot afternoon!

Before I can add sugar to back-sweeten, I need to stabilize the wine, so it won’t start re-fermenting.

Commercial wineries do this by cold-stabilizing their wines. If you’ve visited a commercial winery, you may have noticed a ring of frost around their stainless-steel tanks. By reducing the temperature down to the mid 30 degrees, they are neutralizing the yeast. But glycol chillers cost several thousands of dollars, and since I’m a cheapskate, I don’t have one.

I use potassium sorbate and sulfites to stabilize the wine before I add more sugar, to prevent the residual yeasts in the wine from acting with the additional sugars.

To decide how much sugar to add to back-sweeten the wine, I set up a bench test. This process involves setting up several different samples of wine with increasing quantity of sugar. I now taste the wine, sometimes with friends who NEVER say no when offered wine, for their opinions. (Dave and Michele, come down from Boise and taste this wine!) I may or may not take their advice – it’s MY wine! Well yea, it’s Dave and Michele’s wine too …

I pour one glass with no additional sugar. The 2nd glass has ½ teaspoon of sugar. The 3rd glass has 1 teaspoon of sugar, the 4th has 1½, and the 5th has 2 teaspoons. I then taste, and decide which is my favorite; often “it’s between 3 and 4”, so I pour another glass with half the increment, and choose.

Once I have picked my favorite, I measure the brix with a hydrometer of the chosen wine, which usually reads somewhere between 2 and 4 brix. The unsweetened wine measured below zero, -1.5 (Specific gravity -0.994). After my bench testing, I chose #4, 1½ teaspoon of sugar, which measured Brix of +1 (or Specific Gravity 1.08), which equates to adding 2½% sweetening.

That becomes my target brix, +1, to back-sweeten the entire batch.

Remember that when you add sugar, creep up on the target, adding a little at a time. Don’t add one large addition. You can add more sugar, but it’s hard to take it out if you over-shoot the target.

I ended up adding about three cups of sugar to reach my desired flavor: not overly sweet, still a little tart. Again, during this process, using a stirring tool and a drill will save you a lot of time!

Now that I have my wine sweetened to my taste, it’s time to bottle and wrap up this project. I now have about 5½ gallons of Boiseberry Wine. One gallon of wine fills five standard bottles, so I’m estimating that I’ll need 28 bottles. I always prepare a few extra, so I’ll sanitize 30 bottles.

The wine supply stores sell two different kinds of bottle corking machines. The cheap ones are about $20, but they are difficult to use. I recommend getting a floor corker, which starts around $70. This corker will save you time, effort, and maybe even avoid some spills.

After corking your bottles, it’s time to spruce them up! We do this with bottle toppers that resemble the foil on the top. These are available in different colors, and are shrink-wrap plastic. You can buy an expensive heat gun for about $180, or you can just dunk it quickly into boiling water for almost no cost. Hey, we’ve already established that I’m cheap, right?

The last thing to do to make your bottle pretty, is to put on a label. I’ve named my amateur winery “Donnelly Micro Micro Winery”, because I’m really, REALLY small! I also put on the varietal, the date picked and the date bottled, and some other info of interest to fellow winemakers, such as yeast and residual sugar.

I like to use clear colorless bottles, to show off the beautiful color of the wine.

You will have a wonderful beverage to share with your family and friends, and they make great gifts any time of the year!

– Kevin Donnelly, Winemakers’ Group

The article is also available on the WineMaker Magazine website, titled “Boysenberry Wine: My Out-of-Season Winemaking Adventures.”


Commercial Wine Competition: Judges with Hearts of Gold

All of our OC Fair Commercial Wine Competition judges have huge hearts, but there are always a few whose love and support of the OCWS goes above and beyond.

This year three judges donated their stipends back to the OCWS as contributions to our Scholarship Fund. Thanks to the following judges, our Scholarship Fund now has an additional $900 to grant to students in the future.

  • Joseph S. Franzia, Forest Glen Winery
  • Jessica Gasca, Story of Soil
  • Fred Weibel, Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery

Should you have the good fortune to cross paths with any of these amazing people, please remember to thank them for their kindness and generosity on behalf of the OCWS.

– Rochelle Randel,
Commercial Wine Competition  Judges’ Liaison